Still working some bugs out of the system. In the meantime, enjoy new reviews of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack, Curse of the Blue Tattoo, Under the Jolly Roger, and In the Belly of the Bloodhound, the first four books in the Bloody Jack Adventures.
Hell To Pay, by Simon R. Green, and my review sidebar from the April 2006 issue of Realms of Fantasy have been uploaded.
And better news: Mike Resnick and Eric Flint bought the reprint rights to “Claus of Death” to be published in the upcoming Baen anthology, THE DRAGON DONE IT (scheduled for late 2007). Other authors to be featured in this book include Neil Gaiman, Esther Friesner, Harry Turtledove, Gene Wolfe and Tanya Huff. All great people, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time. I’m looking forward to this! More details when I have them.
My first story to be published in a print medium, on a large scale, was “Claus of Death” in the DAW anthology SLIPSTREAMS, edited by John Helfers and Martin Greenberg. It came out in May 2006, and I know you can still find copies in many major bookstores, or online. I’m particularly proud of this story, as it introduces Nick St. Claus, mythical person turned P.I. who’s sure to be a major player in my universe eventually.
No sooner has one battle ended for young hunter-turned-reluctant hero Eragon and his dragon Saphira, than another begins. For the world has become an ever more dangerous place, filled with uncertainty and potential betrayal around every corner. The Empire now hunts for Eragon and Saphira with every resource it can muster, and Eragon can no longer stay with the organization of rebels known as the Varden. He must learn to master his gifts as one of the legendary Riders, learn to properly wield the magic that flows through him, and strengthen his bond with Saphira. So with a small select group of allies, he travels to Ellesmera, the homeland of the elves, to embark upon the next stage in his education. Little does he know how he’ll be tested, trained, and ultimately changed by his time there. Worse yet, he’ll do it without the aid of a dear friend, who falls early on due to treachery and violence. Can he overcome his limitations to become a true Rider, in time to save the Varden from annihilation?
Meanwhile, Eragon’s cousin, Roran, has a war of his own to wage when the Empire’s forces threaten his home of Carvahall. What begins as a simple act of defiance soon turns into an epic struggle and a desperate journey across the land, molding a man into a leader, and a small town into a near-legendary force to be reckoned with. But will Roran find what he seeks, and will the people of Carvahall escape with their lives when the Empire comes calling? Ultimately, Eragon and Roran’s paths must cross, but will it be as friends, or enemies? And what awful truths about Eragon’s past will finally be revealed?
Eldest continues the story of Eragon, Saphira, Murtagh, Arya, Nasuada, and the Varden in proper epic style. Like all good middle books in a trilogy, it raises as many questions as it answers, moves the hero further along his path of self-discovery and maturation, and places all the pieces so they’ll be ready for the final book. It’s easy to look at the Inheritance trilogy and pick out all of Christopher Paolini’s numerous influences, especially Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and Star Wars. But while Paolini may show his influences, he’s not overly beholden to them, taking old and familiar elements (dragons, elves, dwarves, prophecies, an evil empire, a valiant rebellion, an ageless master, and so forth) and weaving them into a highly-enjoyable story. In some ways, the predictability of various twists is almost refreshing; it proves that Paolini respects the genre conventions he’s working with. That he can do so and still turn out a good, solid story is even better. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the last book in the series, to see if he can wrap it up properly.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2006
For those who attend college, freshman year is perhaps the strangest, most trying period of their time there. Away from home for an extended period of time, with ready access to drugs, alcohol, and the opposite sex, exposed to all sorts of new and interesting things, it’s the perfect time for young adults to go a little crazy. But in Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s new book, two roommates are about to find out just how weird college can really be.
Kim Calloway is an artist whose ability to capture moods and feelings through color borders on the supernatural. However, ever since her best friend betrayed her, she’s been too depressed to work, almost to the point of suicide. Meanwhile, Jaimie Locke comes from a family where magic is a way of life, and the mundane world is full of uncertainty and strangeness. Can two roomies, one coping with a crippling emotional burden, the other representing the ultimate in insular ethnic groups, learn to get along?
It doesn’t take Jaimie long at all to figure out that what’s bugging Kim is of supernatural origin, though. Determined to help her new friend, Jaimie enlists the aid of her cousins, as well as that of her “household god” to track down the emotional vampire which has been preying on Kim for months. Now this unusual collection of erstwhile friends and allies have to survive college and the things which go bump in the night. Talk about new experiences all around!
Hoffman perfectly captures that mixed cocktail of bewilderment, excitement, alienation, experimentation, culture shock and endless possibilities which almost every college student experiences as they learn to adjust to their new setting. From Jaimie learning how to cope with her mundane surroundings, to Kim dealing with her emotions and learning to trust other people again, to Jaimie’s cousins taking responsibility for the dangers they face, it’s all about growing up through adversity. And as always, Hoffman’s ability to weave strands of the fantastic into a real world setting is top-notch. I absolutely loved Spirits That Walk In Shadow, and I hope she’ll return to these characters again soon.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2006
For Art and Myrtle Mumby, life is anything but normal. They dwell in the sprawling house known as Larklight, which occupies an orbit out in the blackness of space beyond the Earth’s Moon. Their history is one in which Newton’s discoveries allowed for the British Empire to rapidly journey into space and conquer the solar system, both dominating and trading with the many bizarre alien species which inhabit the nooks and crannies of planets far stranger than ever imagined. And when a mysterious visitor called Mr. Webster comes to visit Larklight, Art and Myrtle end up on the greatest adventure of their young lives. For Mr. Webster is a giant spider, and his race have plans for Larklight, and beyond that, the universe.
Now Art and Myrtle are caught up in an exciting race against time to free their father from captivity, even as they work with the infamous space pirate, Captain Jack Havock, and his ragtag crew of misfits, to prevent an ancient, evil plan from succeeding. It’s no-holds-barred action as they outwit the ships of the Royal Navy, terror as they delve deep into the bowels of enemy strongholds, and mystery as they unravel the secrets of Larklight. And throughout it all, our heroes will have to keep a stiff upper lip, and maintain that proper British can-do attitude. For Queen and Empire!
Larklight is without a doubt one of the most intriguingly-strange, brilliantly-different books I’ve read in a while. It’s an alternate-history Victorian kids’ adventure with space pirates, evil spiders, crackpot technology, and a roller-coaster of a storyline. You won’t learn anything about science or astronomy here, but you will have a grand old time. To add to the excellence of this book, David Wyatt’s illustrations perfectly capture the slightly over-the-top absurdity excitement, whether he’s depicting motley aliens, a battered old pirate ship, a gleaming ship of the Royal Navy, or mock-retro advertisements. He really manages to evoke the right blend of humor and action, and the combination of story and art pushes this book past good and into superb, in my opinion.
Though Larklight is targeted at somewhat younger readers, it will undoubtedly appeal to a wide audience. I can hardly wait for Phillip Reeve’s next offering in the series.
Nearly two centuries before Alanna the Lioness broke all the rules to become a lady knight and a legend, the land of Tortall looked to different heroes to keep them safe. Heroes such as Beka Cooper, of the Provost’s Guard. But before she became a hero, Beka started out, quite simply, as a Puppy, an inexperienced trainee partnered to two of the senior Guards, more commonly known as Dogs.
As a Puppy, Beka is expected to keep her mouth shut and her eyes open, learning everything she can from the highly-respected team of Goodwin and Tunstall, who are among the very best Guards in service, especially in the dangerous Lower City. It’s not an easy duty; half the Puppies who train in the Lower City die or quit within four months. But for Beka, the Lower City is home, where she was born and bred, and where she’s most comfortable, and now it’s the place to which she’ll bring justice. If she survives. Luckily, she’s got some excellent friends on her side, including a mysterious cat of possibly-divine origins, and a few magical gifts up her sleeve. Beka can hear the voices of the dead, as carried by the omnipresent pigeons of the city… and right now, the voices are whispering tales of murder.
The most hectic, exciting, and dangerous time of Beka’s young life is about to begin. On the one hand, someone is secretly hiring people for a covert project, and killing them for their silence. On the other, a person known only as the Shadow Snake is kidnapping children and holding them ransom for what little valuables can be found in the Lower City. As Beka and her mentors attempt to unravel these two very nasty plots, they’ll challenge the most powerful people in the underworld, and risk death on a daily basis. But will they be in time to solve the mysteries, or will more people die?
Terrier is the first part of a new trilogy that explores the land of Tortall, a century and a half before the Lioness quartet which originally introduced it. But instead of courtly intrigue and knightly challenges, this time we get to explore the setting from a street-level perspective, as the relatively new organization of the Provost’s Guard (the Dogs) continues to puzzle out its role in society. This is a time when justice is fast and loose, crime is rampant, and in many ways it’s every man for itself. And therein lies the fascinating sliding scale of morality that runs through the thread of the story. A heavy portion of the Dogs’ pay comes in the form of bribes, and it’s considered perfectly natural to accept a little extra now and again to look the other way, especially if the crime doesn’t warrant the effort of arrest and trial. And not only that, but there’s a certain acceptance that the Rogue, king of the thieves, will police his own people (in turn paying bribes to the Dogs to keep a certain peace going). In this way, the story reminds me much of Simon Green’s Hawk and Fisher series, which also has to do with some (mostly) honest guards in a city riddled with crime, both mundane and magical. It’s easy to believe in the setting, which is presented in an honestly down-and-dirty fashion without wading too deep in the muck.
Confession time. Even though I’m literally twice Beka’s age, the teenage part of me (that same part which has in the past fallen for Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, Talia of the Queen’s Own, and a certain Alanna) is totally crushing on her. What’s not to like? Beka Cooper is strong, fast, fierce, loyal, good-hearted, and intelligent. She’s the sort of heroine you definitely want watching your back when things get messy, and she strikes me as a good friend in general. Best of all, she doesn’t fear, distrust, or bemoan her magical gifts like many of her literary peers seem to; she’s embraced her abilities and uses them to her best advantage. Make no bones about it, this is the sort of person who grows up to become a legend. Her one real character flaw — her self-proclaimed shyness and inability to speak in front of crowds and strangers — is present without being crippling or overly annoying. It’s refreshing to run into a teenage protagonist who doesn’t wallow in adolescent angst or throw temper tantrums, no matter how rough the going gets. If it wasn’t for her youthful idealism, energy, inexperience, and occasional lapse of judgment (Fishpuppy is a nickname that dogs her steps for quite some time), it’d be easy to think she grew up too fast. As it is, I eagerly anticipate the continuation of her story, and I hope the process doesn’t break her too badly. Beka’s already tied Aly from Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen as my favorite Tamora Pierce heroine.
Finally, no discussion of this book would be complete without mentioning the absolutely exquisite cover art by Jonathan Barkat. He captures Beka with such precision that I could just picture her leaping off the cover and into action. While I’ve seen a lot of really good covers, this is one of those rare few that truly impresses me. All in all, Terrier may be one of the must-read fantasies of the season.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2006
For the most part, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe has been a single-author playground, semi-sanctioned fanfic notwithstanding. However, every now and again, Lackey officially allows others to play in her sandbox. This is the third such collection, and once again she has put together a quality band of authors, both familiar faces and newcomers to the setting. For those who might need a refresher course, Valdemar is one of Lackey’s signature settings, a land guarded by the white clad psychically-Gifted Heralds and their magical, telepathic all-white horses known as Companions. It’s not easy being a Herald, as dozens of books and stories have covered, and here, sixteen authors, plus Lackey herself, return to Valdemar.
Larry Dixon leads off with “Transmutation,” in which a gravely-wounded gryphon discovers his ultimate potential and destiny. Richard Lee Byers explores death and treachery in the city of Mornedealth, in “Death in Keenspur House.” Brenda Cooper’s “Dawn of Sorrows” looks at a young Bard whose life has been recently touched with tragedy. Rosemary Edghill’s “Horse of Air” follows a Herald who, after his Companion was killed, took up the life of an undercover tinker.
In Tanya Huff’s “All the Ages of Man,” a Herald who feels saddled with too much responsibility at an early age must learn to distinguish between duty, discretion, and desire. Michael Longcor looks at the life of a young soldier in “War Cry,” while Michael Z. Williamson studies the ethics of a mercenary troupe called upon to do horrible things against their better judgment in “Naught But Duty.” And Mercedes Lackey gives us an untold tale of fan-favorite characters Tarma and Kethry in “Landscape of the Imagination,” where an escort duty turns out to be a far stranger journey than they ever expected.
You can look at Crossroads in one of two different ways: as a sampler of the many different facets of the Valdemar universe, or as a gift of love to its fans. Either way, you end up with a satisfying collection of stories that revisit the various corners of a rich and intriguing world. With nearly twenty years of details to draw upon, there’s a lot to work with, and these authors certainly do a good job. I’m pretty sure that even a newcomer would find something to entertain them, but if all else fails, I recommend reading Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen for a proper introduction. In general, this is a great collection, if somewhat specialized in scope.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2006
Here we come to one of my favorite anthology themes: time travel. Sixteen authors tackle the ever-fascinating world of temporal cause and effect, in which their assorted protagonists attempt to change their pasts and futures for better and for worse.
Dean Wesley Smith’s “The Ghost of the Garden Lounge,” is an especially strong tale. In it, he revisits a bar whose jukebox occasionally allows people to travel into their own past. In this case, a couple separated by time and tragedy attempt to fix their past repeatedly, their failure growing more profound every time. Also memorable is Daniel Hoyt’s “God’s PDA,” in which a man finds an item capable of rewriting history, or preventing Armageddon. But can he use it responsibly?
Jody Lynn Nye’s “Wait Until Next Year” also looks at Armageddon as a preventable event, but how on Earth does it all relate to the World Series, angels, demons, and a mortal pawn? Loren Coleman looks at a time traveler sent on a specific mission into the past, who falls in love with his current situation, in “Present Perfect.” Brenda Cooper’s “Black Armbands” has a remorseful hero try to change a horrible incident in his own past, but at what cost to history?
Christina York’s “Godspeed” has John Glenn making a choice concerning his own destiny, while in Annie Reed’s “Reboot,” a time traveler discovers a sinister secret about the program where he has worked for many years. In “Jesus H. Christ,” Laura Resnick takes an irreverent look at how an ex-Mafioso convinces the Son of God to follow His destiny.
This is a good, solid collection that really takes full advantage of the titular theme to explore the possibilities. With stories ranging from humorous to tragic, action-packed to thoughtful, there’s plenty for everyone. I might be biased because I’m a sucker for a good time travel tale, but I was quite pleased with this anthology.
Originally posted on SF Site, 2006